“There’s anger and frustration within the company,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai today as thousands of employees of the tech giant around the globe walked off the job Thursday in protest over the way sexual harassment claims have been dealt with at the company. “We all feel it, I feel it.”
“We are grappling with it, as are many places,” he said of the #metoo era and more and more women from all walks of life and industry coming forward with claims of sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and sexual assault.
Perhaps, but the digital kingpin offered scant specifics beyond promises of more transparency and change as he tried to assure critics that “the past couple of years shows” – AKA since he took over in 2015
“At Google we set a very high bar and we clearly didn’t live up to our expectations,” the just over three years on the job CEO told attendees of the New York Times’ DealBook/conference this afternoon as protests were still going on in some regions. “Words are not enough, you have to follow up with actions,” he followed up on-stage, before pivoting to remind the crowd that “these incidents are from a few years ago” and noted that around 48 staffers have been let go in recent years with no exit packages for behavior deemed inappropriate.
“There are concrete steps coming out as to what we could do better,” Pichai declared, with zero specifics except reiterating the words of support he had for the protesters yesterday in an internal memo. “It’s a process and I’m committed to doing better …we are doing our best,” the clearly uneasy CEO noted, pointing out that “sexual harassment in a societal problem.”
The protests today were birthed in no small part by a New York Times piece last week detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Android software creator Andy Rubin and the cover-up and big big bucks payout he received when exiting Google four years ago, the protests have seen employees outside company offices across the globe today. According to the Grey Lady, Rubin was but one of several execs that Google either turned a blind eye to their misconduct for a while or canned with hefty exit packages.
As my colleague Dawn Chmielewski reported earlier today, Google protesters want “an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination and a clear, uniform process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.” Additionally, they are seeking that Google end pay inequity between men and women at the company.
Specific to the matter of sexual harassment the employees are calling for a transparency report on the matter to be made public and pump up the company’s chief diversity officer to report to the CEO directly, as well as deal with the Board face-to-face on relevant policy matter.
Obviously, sticking to prepped talking points on the matter, Pichai didn’t respond directly today to those demands from his own workforce. However, he did assert on-stage that “Google has a very transparent culture compared to most other companies” and give “more transparency” in the future.
Again, no specifics, but promises of being “committed.”
The DealBook conversation in NYC turned afterwards to product, dealing with China, censorship search engines and more matters that Pichai seemingly was much more comfortable with.